#Dyecrest Once I Had a Heart for #MetalChronicles

15 min read

Band: Dyecrest
Title: Once I Had a Heart
Label: ‎Rockshots Records
Release date: 29 September 2023
Country: Finland
Format reviewed: High-quality Digital Record

Dyecrest “Once I Had a Heart”: an epic journey of mastery from the hand of one of the best power metal bands in history.

Dyecrest, the mighty giants from Finland, have unleashed a musical jewel upon the world this past September, their latest album, “Once I Had a Heart” where they solidify their position as one of the foremost bands in the realm of power metal. Featuring top-tier musicianship and the unparalleled vocal quality of Mikael Salo, the best voice in Finland nowadays, this album stands as a testament to their greatness. Join me as we delve into each of the nine tracks that comprise this magnificent musical masterpiece.” ( by Elyna Steel)

Dyecrest is a power metal band from Finland formed in 2003. With 3 previous albums, “Once I Had a Heart” was released in September of 2023- their best album so far.

The members who gave life to this essential album are: Mikael Salo (ex Metal de Facto, Thy Row, Everfrost) in lead vocals, Henri Arola (guitars), Matti Pasanen (guitar, backing vocals) Pirkka Ohlis (guitar, keyboards, backing vocals) Jukka Matilainen (bass) and Niko Takala (drums). These guys managed to create together one of the most incredible, epic, and majestic albums that I can remember. Being a lover of power metal for over 30 years, I say this with total knowledge! 

This album was dedicated in the loving memory of their former singer, friend, and brother forever, Kimmo Blom, who sadly passed away in the fall of 2022. The band felt privileged that there were three songs on the album which they had written with Kimmo, and that they had the chance to have him as one of the backing vocalists on the album. They mentioned, “One day we’ll meet and rock together again – there, Where the Light Was Born!”.

Therefore this album is loaded with symbolism.

So, without further ado, I invite you to explore and enjoy each of the 9 tracks that make up this marvel.

The opening track is “Sacred Sleep” running for 05:23’. I highlight the profound impact that the story depicted in the lyrics had in my spirit. It is not just that the song itself is a masterpiece in terms of music, but it tells us about one of the most horrific events of recent history that occurred inside the People’s Temple Agricultural Project, a religious community also known as Jonestown in honour of its founder Jim Jones, who led the People’s Temple sect and was in charge of this community between 1931 and 1978. During all that time Jones atrociously tortured the members of the community by throwing children who did not obey into a dark hole, frightening them with the presence of a monster that was waiting for them, separating children from their parents, torturing young people who questioned his authority, forcing the community to simulate suicides by taking liquids simulating poison, among other perversions.

A real, insane nightmare that tragically ended in 1978, when Jones “forced” the entire community including the elderly and children, to commit suicide. After investigations, it was determined that what happened there was not a mass suicide but a cowardly genocide.

This shocking song calls us to deeper reflection on how harmful extreme religious thinking is, which instead of good only brings suffering, hatred, horror, and death.

The song kicks off with a simulated speech, a man. Possibly Jim Jones, encouraged people, including children, to drink fake poison “as a revolutionary act”. Then, it explodes with melodic, powerful, furious riffs and impressive drum rolls at a fast pace. The first verses are underpinned with a brief change in tempo, slower, then resumes speed, a structure that remains stable along the song. The chorus is impressive as well: from mid to fast pace, furious melodic harmonic riffs, the drum beats of wonderful insane consistency, and the imposing voice of Mikael Salo that hits you in the middle of the face with unsurpassed power. Afterward, another section is introduced at a fast pace, including atmospheric, melodic keyboards. The brief bridge feels like an abrupt stop to take a breath: keyboards, guitars, and vocals in a soft lullaby which gives way to the final explosion, stable structure in intensity and power, increasing in the tuning note in the last section, ending with another false speech. Epic! Special mention is the majesty of the vocal performance of the mighty Mikael Salo whose voice blows your mind and leaves you breathless. I wonder how a person can manage to convey so many emotions with his voice, for this song talks about a lot of pain, despair, trauma, blood, and death and somehow Mikael manages to convey everything without losing even for a second his impressive vocal quality. After all, Mikael is naturally talented and also hard-working to become the impactful interpreter he is. The nuances in his voice, the impeccably made register changes, and his power and tuning are an experience. 

This song is a triple experience: music, lyrics, and voice. In summary, this track is impactful in all senses and I highly recommend it till my dying day.

Track 2 is impactful as well. “Man-made God” runs for 04:01 and presents us with the archetype of the charlatan of faith, the one who magnifies himself over the poor mortals hungry for hope, waiting for a savior who will free them from a life of suffering,  filling their minds with lies in exchange for their money. 

Man-made God…who made him? Nobody but himself. Some of us who see their lies and contradictions realize that; this is not his heaven but a hoax! 

Direct slap to the faith charlatans everywhere!

The song is composed in a 4/4 structure at a mid-tempo Andante. Tasty power metal with nuances of progressive. It kicks off with brief keyboards followed by a lively power metal section including mighty guitar and bass riffs and amazing percussion followed by first verses where Mikael enters the scene: mixed voice, growls at the end of his phrasings, perfect intonation… simply breathtaking. There are changes in the tempo of the song between the verses and the chorus, which remains stable during the execution of the song. Nevertheless, after the second chorus, there is a marvelous melodic neoclassical guitar solo including ridiculously powerful riffs at a vivid pace for then moving on to a brief intermezzo section with lovely soft, mid-range voice, then acceleration in tempo and harmonic, choral higher register singing.

Finally, the impressive choir section takes us to the end of this chapter with powerful chimes, delicious riffs, and furious vocals, closing impeccably in a fast tempo section followed by terrific progressive chords that suddenly end, along with the drums. In just a sentence: A LEGEND-MADE SONG.

The following track is “Once I Had a Heart”, which gives the album its name and runs for 05:30. It is the third track. The song tells us about the reflection of a random person who reaches a point in his life when looking back, questioning his experience, and finding himself lost and nostalgic for what he once had – a heart, a clear goal, a reason to be here. In his introspection, he gives the sensation of being a helpless and defenseless child, of having realized that everything he believed in and fought for might not even be real. Personally speaking, the lyrics also make me think of elderly people, particularly those who suffer from senile dementia and are irremediably losing their sense of reality, their memories, and their loves, who are being stripped of everything they once were and end their days drained, longing for death. Deep and emotional song.

The composition begins with beautiful violin sound effects and arpeggiated chords played on an acoustic guitar in minor notes. These effectively convey feelings of nostalgia and melancholy. The subsequent section bridges the intro to the first verses with touching melodic riffs and drums. After a change in pace, Mikael Salo enters on stage, singing the first lines in his mid-low vocal register. He performs soft, slightly whispered harmonic voices that accurately transmit nostalgia and introspection in this portion of the track. Then there is a change in tempo, and the vocal harmonies soar in intensity and tonal range in the chorus. This structure remains stable throughout the following sections until we reach a melodic harmonic guitar solo, which is perfectly performed. It precedes the final chorus to end with an exquisitely powerful and at the same time melancholic melodic section. 

Astonishing track, perfectly well executed! 

On the other hand, I state that Mikael Salo possesses one of the most complete voices that I have ever had the privilege of discovering, not long ago. Anyone who appreciates beauty, perfection, power, and harmony in voices could share the same vision in my humble opinion.

Track 4 is “Oathkeeper” and lasts for 04:33’. The core of the narrative in this song recounts the events involving John Schaffer, ex Iced Earth guitarist. The music serves as a tribute to his mastery, and the lyrics reflect upon his downfall following the assault on the Capitol on January 6, 2021. Despite having no history of violence or previous crimes, John found himself entangled in an unfortunate situation that led to his imprisonment. The guitar master, out of a sudden, lost everything. All this led to wonder if we ever thought that what we defend, what we proclaim as “our vision” is the result of our reflection process, or they are external ideas implanted like an infection that corrupts our essence. Could they be mere programming, turning us into a slave to someone we don’t even see?

Moreover, as the rules of the game are imposed by others, we may find ourselves condemned to be the scapegoat, facing social contempt for being “the bad guy”.

So, is it truly worth it?. Great topic to think of.

The music is a delicious power metal song with a fast tempo in 4/4 time signature that features potent, melodic riffs with a drum rhythm in the style of Iced-Earth. The song begins with a brief atmospheric keyboard, followed by a mysterious guitar picking. It then turns into a groovy, swift rhythmic section that gives a feeling of being in something frenetic, violent. I imagine this portion at the moment when the armed men enter, hitting everything in their path, incredibly intense. Another guitar picking portion then leads to the first stanzas, which vary in pulse and tempo, while the voice fuses all the elements, with a raspy tone, increasing the feeling of denunciation and deep impact. The influence of giants like Russell Allen or Jorn Lande is perceived, but Mikael’s unmistakable personal stamp stands out! The chorus comprises multiple voices at fast tempo, keeping the scheme till a powerful duet of harmonic guitar solos including insane pickings. A dark, melodic section bridges the previous to last intermezzo and chorus, amazingly powerful and raw chorus that end abruptely. Awesome track!

Track 5 is “Face the Light”, running for 05:07. The story is the declaration of a person who feels that the illusion of control over Nature, which has been intended to be engraved in our minds as immutable truth, is at a breaking point. The internal fire, the call to find the personal and collective path towards liberation from prophetic schemes—or programming that tries to block the innate power of the human being and thus continue controlling us—appears inevitable. Freeing the mind, looking at the sky, and facing (and embracing) the light will be inevitable. Beautiful lyric! The song is pure power metal in a 4/4, mid-tempo structure and kicks off with harmonic, melodic riffs and a bass section that, personally, reminds me of the essence of Hammerfall songs, a lovely vibe to me! Then Mikael Salo starts singing showcasing a wide range and impactful voice management, a rich variety of elements that just blow your mind. There are vocal harmonies in the chorus with mid and high-tone voices that intensify the essence of the message, making it even more powerful. Special mention how deeply inspiring is the way that Mikael can raise tone yet not lose power or the way he performs phrase endings with that wonderful “growl”- that is one of his features I love the most!

After 2 stanzas and the chorus remaining stable, we reach a bridge section at minute 03:03. What a stunning section, my goodness! There is a change in the tempo, the bass section, and in the vocal lines, rising in pitch with overwhelming power that literally makes me feel the adrenaline burning in a kind of roller coaster, a true example of mastery and perfect coupling between all the elements of this breathtaking system called Dyecrest. After this, an emotional and powerful harmonic guitar solo duet with an exquisite, super-fast bass section preceding the final portion of the track, alike the whole chorus structure, in a higher tone that just kicks asses, with an abrupt ending that leaves you breathless and hungry for more mastery! Absolutely stunning track, and our journey lasts a bit more!!!

“Read My Mind” is track 6 lasting 04:18. Another impactful track!!! A true, fast-tempo anthology of powerful riffs and rhythmic section. Then the voice explodes, that voice! A pristine sustain, perfectly executed towards the top of master Mikael’s vocal range! What an incredible start for a track, it’s so incredible that makes you want to cry while headbanging! 

Then we listen to the first stanzas and the feeling turns more and more intense. The vocals, riffs, and bass section are harmonious and raw and hit your head and chest hard, in a good sense ofc. Then we reach the chorus section… first and second portions are different in pace but similar in vocals, for here we find a 4-voice choral majestic performance led by mighty Mikael and perfectly performed by Matti Pasanen, Henri Arola and Pirkka Ohlis.

A melodic guitar solo section comes afterward, bright, and groovy, then Mikael’s appears in a brief vocal section – goosebumps even in brief sections, such a voice for God’s sake! – all that impeccably link the second and final chorus portions, ending in a brutally raw multiple-vocal chorus that closes the track. Majestic!

The story of the track tells us about the point of no return reached by someone who understands that their relationship no longer worth it, no matter how many years have passed, it simply no longer makes sense to continue joining years in a relationship where love no longer exists and being together means losing more lifetime.

 This is the story of many couples who are not brave enough to put an end to toxic or worn-out relationships. It is in these cases where the truth of the saying “custom is stronger than love” is demonstrated. Guys, this song is impressively powerful and coherent! Thank you for daring to say these uncomfortable truths in such a memorable way.! 

Next, we have “Colder”, track 7 running for 03:39. Here you may find Sonata Arctica, Stratovarius, or Blind Guardian’s influence, but there is something that stands out here: the Dyecrest sound, which grows and manifests itself as unique, wonderful, mature. 

Are the riffs, are the string attacks, the keyboard thrusts, the drum beats that after listening to each compass several times remain burned into the soul. Eternal!

 The composition is a 4/4, fast-paced melodic power metal that kicks off with multiple, harmonic layers composed of guitar, bass, keyboard, and drums in a sort of instrumental chorus that lays an incredible foundation for the development of the song. Then Mikael enters in his mid-high range, taking us on a nostalgic, heartbreaking, majestic journey in vocal terms. When we reach the chorus we find a remarkable harmony of three (or four?) voices before which you cannot help feeling the desire to raise your hands high and sing at the top of your voice! 

So groovy, so touching, incredible! 

This pattern stands till a section with no guitar sound. Bass, drum, and keyboards are protagonists here, and Mikael performs a raw lullaby, lovely, sweet, preceding the final chorus ending in a brief drum roll. What a journey!!!

 In summary, a legendary masterpiece that addresses emotional disconnection, distance, isolation. A heart that feels “colder” because of the struggle to maintain connections and warmth in relationships while facing challenges and obstacles. The sense of longing and yearning for closeness and understanding amidst a backdrop of emotional coldness is the base of this immortal track. 100000/10!

Track 8 is “The Final Act”, lasting 04:15. The lyrics tell us about struggle and defiance against external forces that seek to hinder our progress, our success, conveying the idea of pushing through obstacles and overcoming challenges, regardless of the odds or circumstances. The song also invites us to self-discovery and empowerment, facing our fears and doubts to achieve our goals. A true anthem of strength and resilience that invites us to persevere and rise above challenges to reach our dreams. Inspiring!

 Such an impactful intro! Glorious, progressive drum rolls and bright guitar riffs at delicious fast untempo in a 4/4 structure. The exquisite and powerful tonal rhythmic scheme reminds me of Iced Earth and Halloween, always sounding like Dyecrest though.

 All this introduces us to the following portions, more and more glorious!!! Lively, shining harmony of riffs and rhythmic section that alternates speed in tempo – so invigorating, like a cup of blood for the spirit of a vampire – before entering the first stanzas. Here Mikael alternates vocal techniques such as growling and sharp voice, soft, bright voice, and mixed voice, which he executes and handles perfectly, demonstrating why he is, in my opinion from more than 30 years of listening to metal, the best voice in Finland to date! This added to the melody, embodies the rawest, most tasteful speed metal of Iced Earth, Blind Guardian, and Gamma Ray, though again Dyecrest emerges from all that background and stands on par with those legendary giants. Legitimate heirs, doubtless! 

Pre and chorus reminds me even certain Kamelot songs (and Blind Guardian, Iced Earth, Helloween ofc, don’t panic!): superfast drum rolls, harmonic choirs with multiple voices performing dramatically and Mikael in the lead voice in his mid-high range, brilliant, perfect mixed voice and second voice in crazy high pitch plus a wonderful rhythm section at speed pulse that just leaves you breathless! 

After this, there is an impressive progressive neoclassical guitar pair of harmonic solos reminiscent of Symphony X: elegant, pristine riffs including powerful slides and guitar picking that just kick asses that then merge into a perfect, epic harmony. 

Finally, the last chorus in higher tone and swift pace. In a word: MAJESTIC!!!! 

What an astounding, ridiculously perfect journey this jewel is!

And closing this unbelievable story, “Fire From Your Heart”, one of the most beautiful, heartfelt metal ballads I have ever listened to! Running during 07:10 -timing that seems way too less, to be honest- and placed 9, this story talks about a tragic love between a mortal man and a Goddess. We all can imagine the intensity of a love that is as strong as the ocean; immense, deep, eternal. The mortal falls madly in love with a Goddess, but their love is impossible – the power of immortality does not fit with the brevity of time, death is an insurmountable barrier for a mortal man, too weak to become a God. Amazing lyric! 

The song starts with a beautiful, emotional piano solo, then Mikael Salo sings softly performing sweet mixed voice, rising and lowering the pitch. The chorus is just adorable, with pasty, smooth choral voices, hi-hat chicks, and an atmospheric keyboard integrating all the elements. After this, the ensemble of instruments enters the scene, performing a metal ballad itself in a 4/4 structure with a slow tempo that remains stable throughout the song, with brief progressions towards the end of the track. Then the chorus changes the feeling, turning into a torn scream that blows your mind and lets you breathe. In one concept: OMG.

Then we reach a brief, intimate guitar solo with sensual slides and picking, and after this, a bridge where Mikael excites us with the colors and shapes of his voice in a legendary performance that transcends language barriers. You perceive his heart spilling out as he sings each line of this section with such power, brilliance, and feeling that it simply makes you cry. It takes you on the journey that the mortal went through toward the heart of the Goddess, impossible to stay standing. After this, there is a lovely piano solo as the opening one and soft voice that precedes the spectacular last portion comprised of a chorus and an instrumental portion at a slower pace, impeccably performed by all members of the band and where Mikael manages to deeply convey the feeling of love, extreme struggle, and death throughout.

There are no words to describe it, guys, you must hear this song! I guarantee you an emotional, dramatic journey perfectly performed and narrated in vocals, too wonderful to be true!

I must say, again, I lack enough words to describe the perfection of this album. “Once I Had a Heart” must be at the top of the cusp of the great melodic power metal albums of 2023 – and of all time imho!.

There ain’t a single song, portion, note or feature that isn’t perfect, everything here is a masterpiece. Dyecrest is on par in quality, perfection and beauty with the giants of yesteryear, on par with Blind Guardian, Iced Earth and even Symphony X. Guys, you are gigantic!

And the enormous Mikael Salo, the best Finnish metal voice to this day and there is no room for doubt, demonstrating track by track why is simply a living legend!

Thank you so much guys for this treasure! It has been a total pleasure to review your work! Keep on giving magic to this doom world. 

And Mikael…you are eternal so far! Thank you giving us all your talent, heart and spirit in each song!

You all are much loved!

In the light of all the above, all that mastery just can be rated as follows: 10/10 Elyna Steel

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